Television marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children in Australia: A review of published evidence from 2009

Latest update: 20 December 2012

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The advertising of non-core (e.g., energy-dense, nutrient-poor) foods and beverages to children has come under scrutiny as a contributor to the obesogenic environment. It is thought that the advertising of such non-core foods influences purchases made by children and their caregivers, and affects children’s food preferences and consumption.

To address community concerns about food advertising to children through television, industry groups in Australia introduced two voluntary self-regulation initiatives. In January 2009, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) introduced the Responsible Marketing to Children Initiative (RCMI) and in August 2009 the Quick Service Restaurant Industry introduced a separate initiative (the QSRI).

Signatories to the RCMI commit to not advertise food products to children less than 12 years of age unless the products represent healthy dietary choices (according to criteria that are consistent with established scientific or Australian government standards) and that the advertising message is in the context of a healthy lifestyle that encourages good dietary and physical activity habits. Signatories to the QSRI agree to the principles that food or beverage advertising to children under the age of 14 years must represent healthier choices (as defined by nutrition criteria) and/or the content of the advertisements must represent a healthy lifestyle through messages that encourage healthier dietary choices (as defined by nutrient criteria) and physical activity.

This report has three aims:
1) assess the amount of advertising of non-core foods currently on Australian television during children’s programs and peak viewing times,
2) examine whether the amount of non-core food advertising to children has changed because of the introduction of the industry initiatives, and
3) examine whether advertising differs according to whether a company is a signatory or non-signatory to the industry initiatives (RCMI and the QSRI).

A systematic review of the literature was undertaken. Bibliographic databases (Medline, EMBASE.com and JSTOR) and sources of grey literature were canvassed to identify studies published from the introduction of the industry initiatives in 2009 and onwards, and that described television advertising of non-core foods to Australian children.

The quality of each study was appraised using standard methodologies and a narrative meta-synthesis of the results was undertaken. A statistical synthesis (meta-analysis) was unable to be undertaken as each study had different definitions and time points for the outcomes being measured and so the results could not be meaningfully combined. Eight papers and reports were included in this review (AFGC 2010; AFGC 2012; Brindal et al 2011; Hebden et al 2011 Aust NZ J Public Health; Hebden et al 2011 Med J Aust; King et al 2011 Int J Pediatr Obes; King et al (In press) Public Health Nutrition; Roberts (In press) BMC Public Health).